Thursday, August 23, 2007

Looking In

What is it about looking in that is so fascinating for humans? We’re very curious creatures, aren’t we? That’s why I love visiting house museums – liscense to snoop and look and discover how people lived long ago. I’ve been doing this for years and I always learn something, whether it be about furniture, ceramics, painting and period details or the inhabitants of the home. I think it also makes me a better flea market goer and antiquer.

Julia, at this moment in time, is also interested in other people’s houses. I know this interest is probably fleeting so I have taken advantage of it this summer. Last weekend, we went to The Orchards, the home of the author Louisa May Alcott and her family (including her father, Bronson Alcott, a most famous transcendentalist and educator in the 1800’s) in Concord, Massachusetts. What a gem this place is. The tour guide was in her mid 20’s and full of enthusiasm for all things Louisa May and Bronson and Alcott in general. We were told that Louisa May was the J.K. Rowling of her day making in excess of $100,000 from Little Women and her other books. At any rate, the house is approachable and I could imagine Thoreau and Emerson sitting in the parlor enjoying the Alcott children's plays and concerts.

I especially liked that many things were not perfect at Orchard House - the walls had cracks in them and the floors went up and down. Things were in varying states of repair and restoration. One thing about house museums that I don't like is that sometimes things are just too perfect, too straight, too neat and tidy. I prefer a little decay and signs of life. There were red apples in many of the rooms which was a very nice human touch.

Julia's became fascinated with Louisa May this winter when we borrowed the newest film version of Little Women (1994, starring Winona Ryder) from the library. We discovered that parts of it were filmed near us in Historic Deerfield which made it extra special. We went on to borrow two more versions - from 1949 starring Elizabeth Taylor and Peter Lawford, and from 1933 starring Katherine Hepburn. We called it our Little Women Film Festival and it was a good way to spend winter evenings by the fire.

There's a great children's book about Louisa May and Thoreau called
Louisa May and Thoreau's Flute which is illustrated by Mary Azarian. Sadly it is out of print. It does tell a fictional story about their friendship which is very sweet. Look for it at your library and share it with your kids.

This picture of Julia skipping down Louisa May's path is the way I like to think of her - happy learning and enjoying life. It has been a nice, if rather quick summer, and I'm so sad for it to end as I am sure most of you are. I hope you enjoy one of the last fleeting days!


Sarah said...

A trip to Concord has been on my list for the summer as well. We love "Louisa May and Thoreau's Flute" as well as an abridged version of "Little Women." My plan was to go to Orchard House and Walden Pond (because we also read "Henry Builds a House" and Liz is about to do 3rd grade at Waldorf which is all about building). Anyway, it hasn't happened yet. Maybe a fall weekend jaunt. Fruitlands is also a fun Louisa May trip. I'm glad to see that Orchard House is as great as I remember it.

Anonymous said...

We loved The Orchards when we visited a couple of summers ago. My daughter re-read all the books this past summer, and I would've liked to return to the house but we've run out of time this year. Also, like you say, I had heard that Louisa May Alcott was successful financially...there was a very recent article in the Boston Globe describing how she was the one who lifted the family out of a genteel poverty.

-- Grace

Willow said...

I enjoyed Katherine Hepburn as Jo; the role seemed to fit her so well. Have you read Eight Cousins and its sequel Rose In Bloom?

ColorJoy LynnH said...

I love the photos of Julia... a child allowed to act like a child. Wonderful.

I've been to Concord a good handful of times, it's a great place to visit. Walden Pond is breathtakingly beautiful in October (and not crowded as the kids are at school rather than swimming).

If you drive past the pond you find a mini-castle where the grounds have been made into a wonderful outdoor sculpture garden, with beautiful views.

Did you notice that there is no fast food in Concord? You can go downtown to the quaint shops and get a sandwich in a place which also perhaps offers hand-scooped ice cream cones, and which still has a wooden floor. Or you can go to a very fancy, modern Italian-style restaurant just outside of downtown. No Burger King and the like. Or at least that was true when I last visited about 10 years ago.

I love the mental picture of imperfect walls and floors, and apples in the rooms. Yes, authentic is perhaps more lovely than perfect renovation. Thanks for helping us peek in, with you.

Mama Urchin said...

I love that photo of Julia peeking in. Emerson, Thoreau, Louisa May Alcott - some of my faborites.

Gammy aka Peggy said...

Both pictures with Julia in them are adorable. But I really love the one of her skipping. I love it when out of no where my granddaughter, Emma Belle (5), just cuts out skipping. It is such a happy, innocent expression of life.

Candlestring said...

Oh, those photos! They tug at my heart.

I feel like I may have mentioned it before when you posted about her, but... did you know that Mary Azarian illustrates Cook's Garden seed catalogs? That is where I first saw her works. Just thought I'd share that info.

Jenny said...

My daughter ( and me ) would love to visit Louisa's house. It sounds wonderful.

Felicia said...

How beautiful! It sounds like a delightful place to visit.

Connie said...

I love house museums as well. How wonderful that Julia shares that interest.

In fact, I love art museums that are more intimate and more like house museums, where the artwork is set against a background of furnishings and smaller rooms, rather than the somewhat cold and impersonal mausoleums that some museums are. Some great ones in NYC are the Frick museum and the Morgan Library.

Also loved Louisa May Alcott as a kid. I didn't realize there was a film version that predates the Elizabeth Taylor one.

Mia said...

Julia looks really cute in her pretty sun dress. And the simple joy of life gives children the ability start skipping.

Little Women was one of my favortie growing up. I need to dig out my copy and reread it. I should also give my niece a copy.

Lisa W said...

Sweet pictures of little Julia!

Bonnie said...

The last picture is just like my youngest who is 10, taken earlier in August when we were there! Hope you got into Nathanial Hawthorne's house next door. It was closed when we were up there. AND hope you hiked or swam Walden Pond!

in Charlotte

Barbara said...

My girls and I loved visiting Orchard House! Agree with you completely.
I'm rather fascinated by Louisa Mae's sister, the sister she based Meg on....she was an artist.
Barbara C.